For a long time, I have been badgering a friend of mine who reads manga to do reviews for us at DearAuthor. Manga is one of the fastest growing genres and is read by a broad audience of young girls and boys to adults. ジェーン(Jān) (Japanese version for Jane) is a great lover of romances, provides me with a ton of fantasy recommendations, and now has agreed to provide some guest reviews of her current favorite genre, Manga.
These reviews are typically written as letters to the authors of the books in question. The problem with this story is that the author’s name is Nakano Hitori, meaning “one among many”. In other words, the author is claiming to be an anonymous witness to the events described within. Did it really happen? No one is quite certain, but I would like to think it did, because it’s a very heartwarming and romantic story.
The “Train Man” in question is a hopeless anime geek (think the worst kind of Star Trek nerd). His type is so typical in Japan they have a word for it that’s instantly understood, otaku. He’s never had a date, doesn’t talk to women, communicates through his computer, and spends all his money on anime and merchandise. But one day on a train ride home he finds the courage to confront a drunk who is bothering some women, and is confused to find himself called a hero, especially by one young office lady who later sends him a gift in thanks.
Confused, he turns to the internet, specifically the single guy’s channel on the mega forum 2chan called Poison Men (a real forum btw). He tells them he met a girl, and that he doesn’t have a clue, and asks what to do. Advice slowly starts pouring in from all the anonymous lonely people on the forum: “Call her and thank her.” “Do it today.” “Gather your courage.” Slowly, with the help of these people online who are anxiously watching the events, he begins to believe in himself, and begins to think that maybe he has a chance to win her heart.
This story is so popular in Japan that it spawned movies, a TV series, and four separate manga series. A subtitled movie Train Man just came out, and the novel will be released from Viz in April. But three of the manga versions are already released here:
Train Man: A Shoujo Manga, from Del Rey. Retail*: $10.50. 1 volume. C+
Densha Otoko, from CMX. Retail $9.99 each, 3 volumes, 2 released. B-
Train Man: Densha Otoko, from Viz. Retail: $9.99 each, 3 volumes. B+
*note: retail is what you pay walking into B&N. If you buy online from someplace like animecastle.com, discountanimedvd.com or justmanga.com you’ll pay about $7.50 – $8.00 each. Half.com, ebay.com and Amazon Used offer cheaper possibilities.
All three of these versions are rated T for Teen (a very tame PG, kisses only). And all three read the standard right to left of Japanese manga, something very easy to get used to.
These three versions tell the same basic story, each with their own flavor. Some add or subtract events depending on the length, and on the style of the artist. The first version from Del Rey is subtitled the shoujo manga version, meaning it’s written for young teenage girls. It is a very average shoujo-type story, pretty and bland, and at one volume too rushed.
The second version from CMX is what I’d call the shounen version, meaning written for young teenage boys. It’s not bad, though the characters look all of 15, and it feels a bit more like an adventure than a romance. But the last volume won’t be released until April and who wants to wait when you don’t have to?
The third version from Viz is drawn by a guy who draws coming-of-age romance, Hidenori Hara, which is appropriate for this hero even though he’s 22. His character designs are unusual, but I like his version the best because he really uses the art to communicate things about the characters. Also, the internet forum characters are an important past of this story, and he makes them an incredibly lively bunch. You believe both Train’s reticence, and the fact that they got him to believe in himself. The middle volume does stretch some moments out to the point of becoming irritating, but overall it’s an incredibly sweet story.
A lot of you who don’t read manga may be thinking why the heck should I pay $24 for a series that won’t be as deep as a book by virtue of its medium? If the money bothers you, nothing I say can really help that. I do know that I, a frugal shopper, find it quite easy to drop $7.50 on each new installment of a story I like every three months or so. It only seems like a lot in the long run, but you can get a lot of mileage out of the books. And in a way, buying an Evanovich/Hamilton/Kenyon series isn’t all that different, especially with how little they advance the overall plot arcs these days.
Also, while you *can* use your $7.50 to buy yet another urban fantasy vampire romance, or if you hunt around maybe even an urban fantasy demon romance, you won’t find this story in a romance novel over here. It’s something new for English speaking romance readers, and things like that just don’t come along often enough. And hey, how often do you buy a romance that your teenagers will want to read too?
But if I’ve not convinced you, do keep in mind the novel that’s coming, and the subtitled movie which is probably already available for rent. It’s a story I think all romance lovers would enjoy.